Saturday, 27 August 2011

I decided to officially archive this blog on the day my DPhil was confirmed. But I have waited for the electronic publication of my thesis, Interrogating Archaeological Ethics in Conflict Zones: Cultural Heritage Work in Cyprus, to announce the archiving. From now on, I will blog at Conflict Antiquities.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

This blog is going to endure another hiatus, because my computer broke the night before I returned to Cyprus, so I don't have my photographs, notes, etc. with me; hopefully, I will collect my new, undead computer in the coming weeks and finish uploading this archive soon after that.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Van building 10: this is practically identical to the first, unknown feature, in design and dimensions, although it is better-crafted; I don't know whether the darkness of the upper two-thirds of the back wall of the feature is significant, but I do not think it is, as the other walls are still pale (so I don't imagine it was a cooking platform). The only other thing I could think of was that it was the setting for a tomb, but I don't think it was that, either.
Van buildings 9: I believe the building with a minaret in the foreground is the fifteenth-century Ottoman 'Great Mosque', which was 'ruined by the early 20th century', some of the remains of which were exposed by 'excavations' (Sinclair, 1987: 185).

I don't know what the decayed mud brick building to its east (on the right in this south-facing photograph) was, but the two mosques in the background are the sixteenth-century Kara Çelebi Camii on the left (in the east) and Hüsrev Paşa Camii on the right (in the west).
Van artefacts 4: someone had had a fire here recently; whoever it was must have found and placed this stone here for a seat in front of it. Given it was still hot through the night at the time I was there (so it wouldn't have been burned for heat), I guess one of the cowherds cooked food here. It isn't high enough to provide a viewing point, so I presume they chose this mound because erosion has left it as bare earth, so there was no risk of the fire spreading; the mound was probably formed by soil accumulating around building rubble.
Van building 8d: what remains of the far, (fire?) blackened plasterwork on the wall of this small space, within what I think was a hamam, is covered in personal graffiti.
Van building 8c: this photo shows well the brick-built dome, a window and what looks like the in-filling of an arch-shaped feature beneath that window.
Van building 8b: there are lots of small, cylindrical light shafts in the dome roof of this building, which very much resemble those of hamams that I have seen, like the Gazi Mehmed Pasha Hamam/Gazi Mehmet Pasha Turkish Bath in Prizren (which was built in the Fifteenth Century, so may even have been contemporary with this building).
Van building 8a2: here, you can see that the unknown building (hamam?) is situated far to the east of "Topçuoğlu Mosque" (Sinclair, 1987: 186), so it is not that mosque's associated hamam.
Van artefacts 3a3: again the clean breaks in the bone are clear; the dried cattle dung to the right suggest that livestock's trampling upon the bones broke them.
Van artefacts 3a2: this photo better shows the fresh breaks in the soil-encrusted fragments of bone.
Van artefacts 3a1: there is a shallow pit, dug on the west side of the photo, in front of the cliff face; in the foreground, there is a mixture of fragments of bones and ceramics.
Van building 8a1: this photograph shows that the unknown building, which I believe was a hamam, is east of the "Great Mosque" (Sinclair, 1987: 185).
Van building 7b: I think the stone on the far (east) side of the hole may have been dug out of it and dumped there.
Van building 7a2: this gives some impression how deep the hole was.
Van building 7a1: this is another treasure-hunters' hole, where those hunting have dug down until they reached the natural soil layers (presumably without success).

Monday, 31 December 2007

Van building 6b: this, taken from the south side of the first treasure hunters' hole, more clearly shows the stony layer it cut through, near the surface on the west side, with a large stone jutting out of the north-west corner of the hole.
Van building 6a: this trench is very regular in shape with quite clean sides, but it's not being excavated and it's not been backfilled or covered either, as the accumulation of rubbish shows; according to some locals, many of the others still believe that the former residents were wealthy and "buried their gold" before the destruction of the old city.

This and other holes are the work of current residents treasure-hunting; unfortunately the photo was over-exposed and I may be confusing it with another hole, but I think its diggers stopped when they hit a very large stone. (This photograph is taken from the east side.)
Van artefact 2: this piece of cattle bone is one of several on the surface of the old town; some are complete and clean, others fragmentary and encrusted with earth. Cattle are now grazed on this land, but this bone looks like it's been underground, then unearthed, so it's probably been dug up by one of the cowherd's dogs, or by treasure-hunters, whose holes I've also recorded.
Van building 5: I believe that these few stones, partly-exposed by wear and tear to the path, to some extent reflect an alignment of stones within an earlier structure, even if they are only tumbled rubble; I have recorded more exposed, more coherent, more convincing examples. (The largest, whitish object on the centre right is a fragment of, I think, cattle bone.)
Van building 4: this and a second, stone-cut feature further along were cut into the cliff face of the Rock of Van, west of the Church of the Holy Mother of God. All I could say is that it is an unknown; I don't know whether its ledges were used in the way they appear now, or whether other things (for example, a metal bar or a stone slab) rested upon the two higher ledges.
Van artefact 1a4: this is a close-up view of that, albeit short piece of, legible Armenian script; I suspect the writing within the larger palimpsest of crosses may have been more interesting, but I can't read it, so I don't know and I didn't want to use too much of my camera battery photographing these carvings and risk having too little to photograph the remains of the old city.
Van artefact 1a3: in the middle to the right of the crevice, the Armenian script is large and legible (although I cannot read Armenian) and, immediately above it, there is a broader cross, which resembles a Byzantine Cross(1)(2)(3); to the left of the crevice, there are fine designs, like the croix fourchée (forked cross)(4)(5).
  1. All four arms of the Greek Cross/St. George's Cross would typically be of equal length and would be straight and unadorned.(3)
  2. The Maltese Cross/St. John's Cross is similar to the Greek Cross, but its arms flare.(3)
  3. None of these would fit the definition of a Maltese Cross by the Order of St. John's Reverend Dr. Michael Foster.
  4. The arms of the Cross of the Knights Templars are straight and the downward arm is longer than the others, but their flourishes couldn't be called forks, curves or points.
  5. The forks on the arms are angular, not curved, so they cannot be confused with those of the Cross Moline.
Van artefact 1a2: the dozens of (relatively) large Armenian, or, I think, Forked Crosses are slightly more visible here; moreover, when expanded, many of the smaller ones that I saw when I gawped up at the cliff face become identifiable. It is a palimpsest of hundreds of devotional crosses carved into the Rock of Van; that is what struck me.
Van artefact 1a1: this really struck me. It's a stretch of the cliff face of the Rock of Van with dozens and dozens of what may be Armenian Crosses/Siroun Crosses and/or Forked Crosses (Croix Fourchées) etched into it, in the style of Khachkars/Khach'k'ars, interspersed with Armenian script.

I had assumed that the crosses were Armenian Crosses, but, overwhelmingly, they resemble Forked Crosses and lack the Armenian Cross's characteristic 'Suns represent[ing] the light of Christianity' adorning each corner (although I suppose that might have been a practical matter).

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Van building 3h: this is another Star of David motif wall painting, which most clearly displays the circle painted in the centre of the star, which I had not previously seen in depictions of the symbol; it also has a triangular hole pecked out of the plain panel in the lower half.
Van building 3g2: this is the south-eastern face of the apse in the east end of the church, upon which far more personal graffiti has been written on and scratched into the plaster, although there is still sexual imagery. It is worth noting the lack of identifiable political graffiti, though there may be some in the palimpsests of illegible, scratched-in graffiti.
Van building 3g1: this is the north-eastern face of the apse in the east end of the church, the personal and sexual graffiti clearly visible; there are a lot of graffiti scratched into the lower half of the plastered surface, which are far less visible than "Ali", "Onur", "sik [cock (penis) or fuck]", etc., but similar to them in subject and style.
Van building 3f3: this is the east side of the north wall of the church. I don't know whether this was an original part of the standing ruin, partly walled-up, partly reopened, or whether it was part of an earlier structure assimilated into the Church of the Mother of God.
Van building 3f2: one of the light shafts and the niche can still be seen, but in the north wall of the Church of the Mother of God, beneath the niche, is what appears to be a partly walled-up, partly reopened entrance to an underground space.
Van building 3f1: this is the north-eastern corner of the Church of the Mother of God, in which can be seen two cylindrical light shafts and, beneath them, Star of David wall painting on the north and east walls, with a niche within the north wall painting.
Van building 3e: a stone has been prised out from or has fallen out of the middle of this piece of wall painting and material behind it has been pulled out or has broken down; given the clean edges inside the large hole and the existence of a small hole with what appear to be peck marks all around it, I think the stone may have been removed.
Van building 3d: here, what remains of the Church of the Mother of God can be seen, including enough of the structure's architecture and design to begin to imagine what it might have looked like before its ruination.
Van building 3c2: this photo looks across through the hole in the southern wall of the Church of the Mother of God, to the Star of David motif paintings on the interior of the church and the crosses on the face of the cliff beside it.
Van building 3c1: this photograph looks up at the Rock of Van through the hole in the southern wall of the Church of the Mother of God.
Van building 3b: standing in what I think would have been the nave, on top of the rubble from the structure, I could see both the Star of David motif that decorated much of the interior of the Church of the Mother of God and the devotional crosses carved into the cliff beyond.
Van building 3a2: I could not read or understand this graffito on the exterior of the Church of the Mother of God; I think it reads, "NIL GIMA EZ?" or "N.L[.] GINIA EZ?"
Van building 3a1: Prof. Thomas A. Sinclair (1987: 186) judged this ruined structure '[p]robably the church of the Mother of God' (Sourb Astvatsatsin).

On the exterior, it has recent graffiti that I do not understand; on the interior, it has damaged and decaying Star of David motif wall paintings and religious and romantic, sexual and otherwise personal graffiti; and, on the neighbouring cliff face, masses of presumably devotional crosses have been carved into the rock.

I believe that the Church of the Holy Mother of God was '[t]he church [that] was also called Holy Sign because of the relic', believed to be a fragment of the True Cross, 'where it remained until the Genocide of 1915'.
Van buildings 1b: this is the inner face of the east side of the old city walls; it is a nice palimpsest, revealing the earthen core and the stone face, built up in alternating layers of thin slabs and thick blocks, on top of which grasses are now growing (fortunately, holding the stones in place).

Van buildings 2c: these well-worn paths, created by the passage of locals and visitors, guide your eye and your foot through the landscape; more than that, they have eroded some of the soil covering the remains of the old town, which confirmed, without further investigation, that the grassy peaks, ridges and troughs still reflected the layout of the settlement before its destruction.

Van buildings 2b: more of the wasteland.

Van buildings 2a: all of the mounds are piles of material from the buildings that made up the old town; now it's so flat you can see the entrances to the distant sixteenth-century mosques of Kaya Çelebi and Husrev Paşa (left and right, respectively).
Van buildings 1a: the stone-and-earth mound in the foreground that runs into the background used to be the city walls of old Van; the open area on the right, enclosed by the wall mound, is where the old town used to stand, before it was destroyed in 1915.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

This is a summary of the twentieth-century history of the old town of Van, its community/communities and their destruction during the First World War and the genocide. (I will (eventually) link to photographs of sites where appropriate.)

The General Directorate of the Republic of Turkey State Archives stated that:
In the wake of the eruption of the Van Rebellion, on 9 C. 1333 (24 April 1915) the government sent a secret circular to provincial and sanjak governors with the aim of disbanding the revolutionary committees which had initiated these incident[s] and which had armed the Armenians. In this circular it requested that the Armenian committee headquarters be closed, that their files be seized and that the committee leaders be arrested. [16 (BOA. DH. ŞFR, nr. 52/96, 97, 98)] Following the circular sent by the Supreme Military Command to all units on II C. 1333 (26 April 1915), 2, 345 individuals were arrested. [17 (Kâmuran Gürün, Ibid., p.213)] It is these arrests that are the basis for the annual commemoration of April 24 by Armenians as a day of massacre.
Already in 1914, however, there was a Special Organisation established to deal with, as Erzurum Party Chief Hilmi described them to Special Organisation Head Bahaettin Şakir, the 'persons to be liquidated at home' (Akçam, 2004: 160).

While there had been a Revolutionary Party, Y. K. Rushdouni had noted (on the 7th of June 1915) that,
the three leaders of the former Revolutionary Party called Dashnagists, who since the proclamation of the Constitution had been changed into a political party and had come to an understanding with the Young Turks, exhorted the people to endure in silence. Better, they said, that some villages be burned and destroyed unavenged than give the slightest pretext to the Moslems for a general massacre.
Already, earlier in the war (but unfortunately lacking a complete reference for Y. K. Rushdouni's narrative in Gotchnag),
the Turkish Army rallied again, and instead of pursuing the enemy, they exterminated the Armenian and Syrian population of Bashkalé, Sarai and all the surrounding villages. They had massacred all the male population, and in certain places---according to the reports of a Turkish commander who was a Russian subject---had thrown them into wells.
(This account also has the values both of acknowledging the massacres of other communities, like the Assyrian, Chaldean and Syrian Christians and documenting the process of extermination.)

As Vahakn N. Dadrian (2003: 276) relayed,
As the wartime Austrian Military Plenipotentiary to Turkey stated in his memoirs, the Van uprising was "an act of desperation" (Akt der Verzweiflung). The Armenians, he went on to say "recognized that the general butchery [die allgemeine Schlächterei] had begun in the environs of Van and that they would be the next [victims]."
(According to one chronology, on the 15th of April 1915 that Armenian refugees began to 'arrive and notify the inhabitants that 80 villages in Van Province were already obliterated and that 24,000 Armenians had been killed in three days'.)

On the 24th of May 1915, Grace Higley Knapp had written to Dr. James L. Barton,
The fact cannot be too strongly emphasized that there was no "rebellion." As already pointed out, the revolutionists meant to keep the peace if it lay in their power to do so. But for some time past a line of Turkish entrenchments had been secretly drawn round the Armenian quarter of the Gardens. The revolutionists, determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible, prepared a defensive line of entrenchments.
(See also A. S. Safrastian's account, given on the 2nd of December 1915, that 'the Turkish Government wanted to dispose of the "rebellious" Armenians of Van' and that the assassinations of Armenian leaders and 'massacres of Ardjish, cleared up all doubts' that, 'an appeal to arms was the only argument which could save their [Armenians'] life, honour and property'.)

On the morning of the 20th of April 1915, the Armenian community barricaded in the old town, the Ottoman army's siege and bombardment of the old town began; it continued until, over the course of a few days culminating on the 18th of May, the Ottoman army withdrew before the Russian military and the Armenian paramilitaries arrived.

Nathalie Tocci (2001: 3) noted the subsequent 'massacres committed by the Armenians and the Russians towards the Muslim population' during the Russian army's occupation of the area. T. A. Sinclair (1987: 182) recounted that, a month later, the 'Armenian population moved out with the Russian troops'; but the Russian army was certainly not "heroic" and the survivors had no choice but to follow them.

At the time (but unfortunately lacking a full bibliographical reference), an unnamed journalist interviewed Sylvia Gazarian for the Pioneer Press, who observed that, while Armenian civilians were 'under their protection for a month',
Russian treachery became evident when they evacuated the town. They pillaged every standing home. When we demanded that they should stay and protect us, the general said: "If you don't want us to leave you, come along."
The Russian army returned in September. On the 9th of December 1915, using information furnished by the British Consul at Batoum, the UK Foreign Office reported that:
In view of the anti-sanitary condition at Van, sickness of every kind is prevalent among the orphans of massacred Armenians, large numbers of whom have now accumulated at Van and in its district. The children are fatherless and motherless. They are in a terrible condition. Most of them are starving, and have become so emaciated that they look more like skeletons than human beings. All buildings at Van have been destroyed by fire. No places of refuge exist for the infants. The Field Lazaretto of a Russian regiment has taken some of these orphans under its care and protection, and they seek warmth and shelter under the overcoats of the Russian soldiers.
The Russian army remained until the armistice of 1917.

Sinclair (1987: 182) said that:
A town in the full sense was founded about 1930.... However by the beginning of the Second World War house walls in the old city were still standing. The Garden City's trees, on the other hand, were gone and the gardens uncultivated: the present thick covering of trees seems to be the result of planting since then.
As Tocci (2001: 2) observed, however, the old town of Van is now 'a sea of overgrown, rubble-strewn mounds'.

Sinclair (1987: 182) noted that there had been a variety of domestic, commercial, bureaucratic and military buildings within the walls, as well as the Kara Koyun Mosque, 'whose site recent excavations have made clear' and 'several churches'. When I visited, the mosques were undergoing restoration, but the ruined churches were not even being preserved in their ruinous state.

Sinclair (1987: 182) observed that, even in the Nineteenth Century under the Ottoman Empire, before the destruction of old Van, '[t]he sites occupied by the former cities were still lived on; and the governor often forbade access to the citadel' for survey or excavation, but still now, 'the citadel and particularly the old city have not been thoroughly explored by excavation'.

Tocci (2001: 2) supposes that '[t]he complete abandonment of this area and the lack of any reference to its history, render the tragedies of the past all the more vivid', but I suspect that that is only the case for those who already know its history; for those who do not, it renders those tragedies and travesties not only physically invisible, but also emotionally unreachable, even unbelievable.

The old town of Van will continue to lack survey or excavation, as the Turkish State would have to issue an excavation licence for a dig in which the first thing the archaeologists would find would be the material evidence of the Ottoman Empire's violent destruction of the Armenian community.

The military-dominated Turkish state and its state apparati, like the General Directorate of the Republic of Turkey State Archives, whose false narrative opened this post, do not want the public to know 'the [true] basis for the annual commemoration of April 24 by Armenians as a day of massacre'.

* I didn't have the opportunity to explore the 'Garden City' suburb, which had been, according to Sinclair (1987: 182), the main residential area. (A contemporary Armenian refers to it as 'Aikesdan (the Vineyards)'.)

Akçam, T. 2004: From empire to republic: Turkish nationalism and the Armenian genocide. London: Zed Books.

Dadrian, V N. 2003: "The signal facts surrounding the Armenian genocide and the Turkish denial syndrome". Journal of Genocide Research, Volume 5, Number 2, 269-279.

Knapp, G H. 1915: "Letter [private correspondence with Dr. J. L. Barton]", 24th May. Available at:

Rushdouni, Y K. 1915: "Letter [private correspondence, 7th June]". The Guardian, 2nd August. Available at:

Safrastian, A S. 1916 [1915]: "Narrative [2nd December 1915]". Ararat, January. Available at:

Sinclair, T A. 1987: Eastern Turkey: An architectural and archaeological survey - Volume 1. London: The Pindar Press.

Tocci, N. 2001: "Our future southeastern Turkish frontiers". Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies. Available at:

UK Foreign Office. 1915: "Memorandum on the condition of Armenian refugees in the Caucasus and orphans at Van". London: UK Foreign Office. Available at:

Monday, 9 July 2007

I'm afraid my connection and blogger have been playing up and not playing nicely when I've been trying to upload photos and they're still not allowing me to (the one below notwithstanding), so this page will have to wait. :o(

[Originally written on the 23rd of June 2007; updated on the 28th of June.]

It is still waiting, as I'm trying to visit some sites round and about.

[Updated on the 9th of July.]

I've visited several sites near Morphou/Güzelyurt in western Cyprus and one near Famagusta (Ammochostos/Gazi Mağusa) in eastern Cyprus (revisiting another on the way there), but my car broke down and I only got it back from the mechanic's today.

I've been trying to do what work I can in the library, but I'm still waiting on a usable internet connection (as it continually cuts out before photographs can be uploaded or information to annotate them with downloaded).